Getting justice for Asia Bibi

Last month, the Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, citing lack of evidence. The verdict must rank as the boldest in the chequered history of Pakistan. The judges showed remarkable courage in going against the far-right ideology responsible for the extralegal lynching of an estimated 60 persons accused of blasphemy since 1990. Indeed, in 1997, a judge of the Lahore High Court, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who had dismissed a blasphemy case against two Christians, was killed. So were Salman Taseer, the outspoken Governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, in January and March of 2011, respectively. Both of them were critical of the blasphemy laws and had defended Ms. Bibi. Surrender of the Pakistani state True to form, the Pakistani clerics’ reaction to Ms. Bibi’s acquittal was brutal. Thousands of their weapon-wielding henchmen blocked roads and burnt vehicles shouting “Hang Asia” slogans. Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri, senior leader of the radical outfit Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), not only incited an insurrection against Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, but also openly called for the assassination of the Supreme Court judges who discharged Ms. Bibi. If that was not horrific enough, he hurled an antisemitic slur at Prime Minister Imran Khan and sought the dismissal of his government. All this in the name of the Prophet whom the Quran calls Rahmat al lil aalameen (Mercy unto humanity)! Such was the savageness of the clerical backlash that the government capitulated within two days of the verdict. This resulted in Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister and the Law Minister of Punjab signing an agreement with the TLP. One of the two TLP signatories was Mr. Qadri. Under the deal, the government agreed to take immediate steps to prevent Ms. Bibi from leaving the country and promised not to contest the review petition filed against the verdict. Also, the arrested protesters would be released without delay and violence against them investigated. The only concession that could be extracted from the TLP was a deceitful ma’azarat (apology) to those who feel its activities had hurt them. The surrender of the Pakistani state could not have been more abject. One fails to understand why Pakistan is constrained to pander to every whim of the extremists, especially when they do not enjoy popular support. The TLP, which has been consistently holding the state to ransom, did not win a single seat this year in the National Assembly despite fielding more than 170 candidates. The only inference that could be drawn from this is that an overwhelming majority of the Pakistani electorate does not subscribe to the medievalism of religious parties. Yet, the radicals can be seen dictating terms to even the powerful Pakistani military. Some commentators attribute this to the belief that Pakistani citizens are not moderate. The argument is, if the extremists are not winning seats, it is because the mainstream parties have appropriated the discourse of the religious right on issues like blasphemy and women’s rights. This reasoning is too simplistic. If, as alleged, the people of Pakistan had really been comfortable with radicalism, they would have backed authentic religious groups which hope to desecularise Pakistan. They would not have voted to power a mainstream party which only opportunistically resorts to the language of political Islam.

Source :  https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/getting-justice-for-asia-bibi/article25561733.ece

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